What is Spousal Maintenance?
What is Spousal Maintenance?
Spousal Maintenance is an ongoing obligation by one party to the divorce to maintain the other spouse for a specific sum of money and duration. It is also known as Spousal periodical payments. This is in addition to any child maintenance that may be payable.
There is no prescribed formula for calculating spousal maintenance and the court can order maintenance at whatever amount and frequency it thinks is appropriate. It can order maintenance to last until a particular date or event, or to carry on until one party dies (a joint lives order). However, where appropriate, the Court will expect the parties to work towards independence and the Court is also under an obligation to consider a Clean Break where possible.
Spousal maintenance orders are usually made for a fixed term (i.e., until the youngest child of the family reaches 18) or with a trigger event (i.e., when the youngest child starts school and the parent caring might be expected to increase their income and need less financial support). If it includes an end date it can say that the term cannot be extended, or that it can be extended if an application is made before it ends. It can order the amount to change on particular trigger events or dates.
Spousal maintenance orders automatically ends if the person in receipt remarries.
Maintenance payments are not automatic and there are several factors that the Court would need to consider in order to decide whether spousal maintenance would be payable. Primarily, the Court will look at the needs and resources of the parties together with the standard of living enjoyed by the parties during the course of the marriage.
If a spousal maintenance order has been made and the paying party can no longer afford to make the payments, they will need to make an application to Court to vary or cease payments.
The most cost-effective way of achieving a financial settlement between the parties to include spousal maintenance, if appropriate, would be through direct and open communication or by way of mediation. In situations where mediation is not appropriate or there may be difficulties with direct communication between the parties, a financial settlement can be negotiated through solicitors.
A last resort would be to involve the Court by making an application. This should not always be seen as negative as the court timetable that will be imposed focuses the minds of the parties and can sometimes lead to early out of court settlements.
Spousal maintenance is not appropriate for every case, but it is a helpful mechanism that can assist a weaker party to regain some financial security for a set period of time.
Good Divorce Week is an annual campaign run by Resolution that focuses on limiting conflict in divorce. The aim is to encourage couples experiencing divorce to try to address the issues they face in the best way possible.